1) In Russia, there is no shame in lying. Lying successfully is a sign of strength.
2) Russian leadership fear the effect the internet may have on their domestic population. Part of their strategy is to pollute it and make it repulsive. (This is the opinion of the Russian investigative journalist who worked in the Troll house.)
3) Russians prefer to function under a fog of confusion and misinformation. They think it makes their enemies hesitate, and it gives their vertically structured institutions an advantage over western institutions with have more autonomy and delegated responsibility.
Last Sept. 11, this “news” broke on Twitter : “A powerful explosion heard miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, La., #ColumbianChemicals.” Another tweet linked to a screenshot purporting to show the story featured on CNN. Another pointed to a YouTube video of ISIS claiming responsibility.
It took two hours for Columbian Chemicals to catch up and put out the truth: There was no explosion and the “news” was fabricated. “Personally, I think it’s just a real sad, sick sense of humor,” the head of the local Office of Homeland Security explained. “It was someone who just liked scaring the daylights out of people.”
That someone turns out to have been Vladimir Putin, or one of his cronies.
Last week technology writer Adrian Chen unraveled the elaborate hoax in the New York Times magazine. He discovered how a secretive group in St. Petersburg, Russia, deployed dozens of online “trolls” who propagated the lie, briefly terrorizing the small Louisiana community on the 9/11 anniversary. Mr. Chen identified the group as the Internet Research Agency, reportedly run by a Putin business associate.
Preparation for the hoax took months. Dozens of Twitter accounts using false American-sounding names posted hundreds of tweets. Some targeted local newspaper and broadcast journalists, alerting them to the “news.” Trolls created sites designed to look like real Louisiana TV stations and newspapers and posted fake eyewitness reports and photos. They created a Wikipedia entry describing the Columbian Chemicals disaster. Mr. Chen discovered that many of the same accounts also spread phony tales of an Ebola outbreak and a police shooting of an unarmed black woman, both in Atlanta.
Independent Russian news media estimate the Internet Research Agency employs 400 trolls. A former staffer, Ludmila Savchuk, told Mr. Chen that over two 12-hour shifts she was expected to produce propaganda amounting to five political posts, 10 nonpolitical posts and at least 150 comments on posts created by co-workers, often criticizing the American or Ukrainian government. Russian trolls sometimes pose as American liberals or conservatives on U.S. news sites, giving a false impression of public opinion.